Thursday, 18 June 2015

Thoughts on the FFVII Remake

I’d pretty much given up on writing as laziness and self-doubt got the better of me, but FFVII is one topic I want to put my thoughts out on regardless.

So Square Enix has announced they're remaking FFVII. It’s a move that has me excited and worried. Tetsuya Nomura is taking on directing duties. He was the character designer on the original FFVII and though he had his role in the success of FFVII his subsequent rise through the ranks often seems responsible for imbuing the series with many of the traits that have turned me off the series.
Final Fantasy VII is a weird game. It’s not the first description people go to when thinking about such a seminal JRPG, but it’s a game that’s full of odd, quirky moments.

It can also be somewhat of a mirror to the player’s own interpretations.  Despite the reams of text, the baby steps into deeper videogame storytelling, crass localization and lack of voice acting mean’s one can’t help project a certain amount into the characters.

I certainly feel that way when I see how others perceive the characters.  Subsequent FFVII spin-offs never captured the right tone. It suddenly seemed like FFVII was a game that was dark and broody. Advent Children came out and seemed aimed at the My Chemical Romance generation. It didn’t tally with the game I knew at all.

It 's  hard to describe Cloud, because his characterisation is broad, inconsistent, both perhaps because of the original writing of him and by accident of the localization. But one thing he’s not is a brooding teenage emo. His hair’s spiky because he’s a fucking mess, not because he spent hours styling it that way. He’s not deliberately aloof; he’s just a bit awkward and not very good at talking to people. (Okay, maybe I’m just projecting myself into the character there)

It led me to question if I was I just reading things wrong. Was I imagining depth that wasn’t there? Was I just projecting traits onto the characters that seemed more appealing to me? It’s a question I’m still not entirely sure of the answer to, but I’m certain through subsequent playthroughs that its whole style is worlds apart from its spin-offs and Square Enix’s style now.

It tends to be reduced to its bigger moments, and while there are huge emotional moments and great set-pieces. The smaller moments, the little bits of interaction between the characters are what really held things together. You feel like you’re on a journey with people you care about.

A lot of these smaller moments are what resonate so many years later, but a lot of them might not be so essential to the overall plot.  Some things that will inevitably get cut and changed will hurt, even though removing them may be a good decision.

So a remake raises the question of what they should change, what they should keep. Being a fanboy means one is too rigid when it comes to different interpretations of a story. People will be unhappy regardless, but will this be because of fear of change itself or because of the changes not being very good?

Obviously there’s going to be outrage when the game fails to revert the world to a blissful idealized child state before we knew the abyss (much like meteor) loomed ever closer  But I can already see there being huge “Well the fans just didn’t like it because it was different” “No we didn’t like it because it was shit” debates.

But it does present them with opportunities to improve things. I’d hope the material system is still very similar (it would have to be in some sense because it’s a system that’s very much tied to the world) but they could do away with random battles.

They could also bring clarity to certain parts of the story. Some major plots points are made confusing by the translation. Others are hidden away in optional scenes where the importance isn’t really hammered home. They can also explain what the fuck Cait Sith actually is!

But I hope they don’t lose sight of what made the original so successful. They need to be brave enough reinvent things but still understand the impact of what they’re changing. They have to keep a very delicate balance between the old and the new.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Dishonored Review

Depending on your perspective Dishonored either seems to have come out of nowhere or has been one of the most anticipated games of the year. I’ve seen reviews calling it the surprise/sleeper hit of the year and others commenting on whether or not it lived up to all the hype and expectations.
The game had drawn comparisons to Thief, Deus Ex and Bioshock so it had set itself some very high standards and it mostly lives up to them. The look of the game shares similarities to the painted look of Bioshock and combines City 17 in Half Life 2, with a Victorian, cyberpunk feel. The world itself feels very unique as it’s able to draw on different historical elements but allows itself more artistic license with technology and magic than real history allows.

The first level of the game (a prologue aside) see’s you escaping from prison. You’re given a key with a note offering you a way to escape. The game doesn’t give you too many clues on how to escape there are hints and directional markers; though you can turn these off if you prefer to figure these things out for yourself. The difficulty in stealth games especially in an FPS is always not being sure what the enemies field of vision will be like. I spent quite a while in the opening room before I realized that for one, my character would be able to jump and climb a lot higher than I thought and secondly that your enemies have really terrible peripheral vision. It’s always seemed to be a bit of a failing in these games to me that enemies can see about 10 meters in front of them at best, but I won’t hold this against Dishonored. Once you get the hang of moving around and sneaking up on enemies you’re aware of the possibility of getting through the game with no kills. Possibly without even being discovered once, although that is truly difficult.

It puts you in a bind - do you go for the mostly stealthy no-kills game and get the happier ending? Or do you actually use some of the fun weapons and powers to take people down in creative ways, even if it does lead to a darker ending. It’s definitely a game where at least 2 playthroughs are needed to truly appreciate it. You’ll want to see all the alternate ways of tackling missions. If you go for a more violent approach, you'll still need a certain degree of tactical thinking. If you just run in trying to slash your way past everyone, you’ll struggle to get through unscathed. But certainly the difficulty in sneaking up on everyone and the limited amount of sleep darts you can carry makes killing the easier option. There certainly are creative ways to cause destruction in the game as this video demonstrates trailer so it’s a shame that the mechanics of the game aren’t able to reward you for creativity in other than a few trophies/achievements.

The first of the powers the game gives you is “Blink.” It allows you to throw yourself across along platforms, up to high ledges and you can also use it to break your fall.  It can also be a quicker way of sneaking up on enemies. There are limitations to it though. You can’t use it pass through traps, as you’re still physically flinging yourself through space rather than teleporting. It has that quality to it where even when you stop playing the game, you look outside and think “Hmm I could blink onto that window ledge, climb up onto that house, jump across the rooftops and into that house with the open window over there” I’m playing Assassins Creed 3 at the moment and it took a period of adjustment to get used to the fact that I wouldn’t have the ability to 'blink' myself to my targets.

Another inspired idea in the game was to randomize some of the mission variables. So some safe codes aren’t the same each time you play through and in the case of the Lady Boyle mission your target changes. Your mission is to assassinate one of the Boyle sisters at a masquerade party and each of them is wearing a different colour dress and each time the name of your target and the colour dress they wear changes so your investigation has to be slightly different each time.
It has to be said though, not every mission has this much creativity behind it. Some missions are across some fairly linear and narrow locations. Though there’s still slightly different ways to tackle them it doesn’t always challenge you to think so laterally.

As for the story, the world is very well crafted, it’s detailed, they thought about how the society operates, its energy sources, its history. The books scattered throughout the world offers insight into the history of the land and the mythology. If they wanted to write a sequel set in the same universe, perhaps in a different city entirely, or a different point in history. They’d probably be able to do it, and make it work very well. The trouble is the dialogue in the game is too basic its aim seems to be to get across all the necessary plot and character information without leaving much room for personality.
 Despite some high profile cast members, nobody delivers a particularly impassioned performance. It feels more like the cast are having their first read-through at times. The writer talked about trying to make the dialogue as brief as possible and the result is the characters feel flat. There are no real interesting human qualities to them. And the fact that your character has no voice and says nothing aside from a few things in multiple choice responses, means characters have to talk to you in that strange way all characters have to talk to a silent protagonist. It’s a real shame because the foundations for a great story are there, but some bad decisions were made in the execution. In the end you don’t feel as invested in Dunwall and Corvo as you should and so the ending just feels a bit underwhelming.

But this shouldn’t subtract from the fact that this is a smart and exciting game. Well worth a look for anyone interested in this multiple choice FPS/RPG hybrid genre.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Studio Ghibli Part 5

Howls Moving Castle

This was Miyazaki’s follow up to the hugely successful Spirited Away, so it had a lot to live up to. This one blends a lot of what he does, by Ghibli standards it’s a darker world but still with a lot more lightness than some. I think a major flaw in the film was how the character was Howl was introduced, from the way characters spoke of him it almost seemed like he was going to be an antagonist. Now the film does a lot of good things with some ambiguous characters, but it just seemed to me he was introduced poorly. There’s very much a fairy-tale vibe amongst this one. The film concerns a girl whom acts much older than her age, being transformed into an old woman, so she has to break the curse. There’s quite a lot going of story going on alongside this with a war going on. It does at times feel like it meshes a lot of elements from previous Ghibli efforts, but it does just enough unique things to distinguish itself. And the various elements manage to weave together and make for a very moving climax.

Princess Mononoke

One of the darker more adult stories from Miyazaki, this is certainly one of his epics. Themes he would revisit of a war going on while one of the main characters is cursed. Quite unusually for Ghibli the main character is a young adult male. It certainly gets quite dark and gritty at times. But certainly one of its great successes is having no truly evil characters. Even with some of the terrible goals the antagonists have, they’re not show to be truly evil people; they’re just misguided and have some of their own interests that they need to protect. It’s also very much a tale of man vs. nature that’s one of the strongest recurring themes among Ghibli films. This is one of their longest as well, so it certainly has a lot to say on the subject. The version I saw certainly suffered a bit with the translation, I don’t know of may have just been a synch issue with the file I had, but the dub was a little mistimed, and it seemed less had been spent on it than there sometimes be. I kept recognizing John Di Maggio’s voice for some of the incidental characters. It’s a certainly a large cast, so they may have needed to cut down a bit, but it doesn’t seem to be one of the dubs available. Anyway I’ve generally not been as keen on the longer epics that ghibli produce, and while this isn’t an exception, it’s one of the strongest.

Porco Rosso

Unusual for a Ghibli film in that it’s set during a specific time in history. Set during the interwar period, it concerns an ex World War 1 fighter pilot turned bounty hunter. Although in a more Ghibli spin, the titular character is someone who has been turned into a sort of hybrid pig-man. An idea sort of used again in Spirited Away. This does seem to be a reoccurring trope inspired by Japanese folklore. Although the reasons for him being cursed aren’t really explained and aren't really relevant. Through the film he teams up with Fio, his mechanics’ granddaughter who turns out to be a more than capable mechanic and assistant. And of course she inspires Porco to become more of a hero and have less jaded world view. It feels quite different for a Ghibli film as it’s a hybrid of having a real world setting, but it’s still an action-adventure story with some mild fantasy elements. It’s a little shorter and lighter than the average with some of the goofy humour that doesn’t usually seem to translate very well. It’s like a light-hearted Sunday afternoon film. It’s not Miyazaki’s most ambitious work, but it does what it does well.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Dead Island Riptide: Special Misogynists Edition

So lessons apparently haven’t been learnt from the controversies of last year, such as the Hitman trailer. Deep Silver, the publishers of Dead Island believe this is an appropriate thing to give away with their special collector’s edition version of the game.

It's a painted statue of a bloodied woman's torso with large breasts. Even if I were a misogynist, this statue has no arse for me to objectify.

Look games publishers you can’t keep hocking shit like this and then wonder why it’s mostly men who play your games. It’s starting to seem a bit disingenuous. I mean if you actively do things that’ll put women off buying it; you can’t then later bring up your market research and say “Well we market it towards men because that’s who our audience is.” It’s that way because you made it that way.

It’s remarkable how far behind the games industry seems to be on these issues, still blundering about like a republican congressman. But then when has it ever been important to them to look at the outside world and see how things are changing. Would have been nice if 2013 had been a fresh start and we started to see some more positive progress but apparently not.

It’s been heartening to see that the overwhelming reaction to it has been negative, and Deep Silver are currently reconsidering it.

A lot of comments seem to suggest that deliberately sparking outrage is still positive publicity for them, but I’m not convinced it is. I’m not sure that anyone is going to buy this game that wouldn’t have already. It’s an odd state of mind when people object to others complaining about this. Its shit and it’s going to take people complaining about this every time something like this happens to stop it happening again. Hopefully the money wasted on commissioning these will at least cause the company to rethink this next time. I wonder if many of the statues have already produced, and what will happen to them if this does get pulled. It does bring up a rather bizarre image of a mass of torsos being pulped.

What’s so confusing is how the games industry consistently wants to alienate an entire gender with this. In fact it alienates most men as well, so really what is the point? They don’t seem to understand why what they’re doing is offensives and why it’s against their own interests.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Death of big budget indie games

New article by me up at